July 12, 2010

Ailing McConnell, teaching Raul

Secret_Order Gordon McConnell, one of South Florida's finest actors, became ill after performing Saturday's matinee of Secret Order at the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton.  He was hospitalized and, though he's expected to be released today, there's no word one when or if he might be returning to the play.  No definitive word either on why he became ill.

Though Saturday evening's performance was canceled, director Tom Bloom stepped into McConnell's role, playing a research lab director opposite the young scientist played by Nick Duckart.  Bloom is to continue performing, book in hand, this week, though he hopes to be off book -- to have the role memorized -- late this week.

The irony here is that in March, it was McConnell who came to the rescue when a different Caldwell actor became ill.  David Pendleton, who was playing the title role in The Old Man and the Sea, was hospitalized after suffering a stroke, and McConnell took over.  Here's hoping that this terrific actor is back in action soon.  For Caldwell info, visit the theater's web site; the show runs through Aug. 1.


Raul07_Babalu_Dade_CWGRaúl Esparza just finished his brief run in Babalu at the Arsht Center, and he's soon heading for Los Angeles to star in the Broadway-bound musical Leap of Faith.

But before the Miami-raised four-time Tony Award nominee leaves his hometown, he's making time to give back to a program that gave much to him (he participated in YoungArts in 1988 and received an alumni award in 2009).  From 3:30 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Esparza will deliver a workshop titled Approaching Broadway to talented high school students as part of YoungArts Miami's regional summer program.  Students will learn how to "act" a song as they present two short excerpts from Broadway songs (bring sheet music).  Esparza requested that one of the two be by Stephen Sondheim, an artist whose work the actor knows well:  He starred in both Sunday in the Park With George and Merrily We Roll Along during the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration, then went on to earn one of his Tony nominations for playing Bobby in the Broadway revival of Company.

Participation is limited to Miami-Dade high school students, who must pre-register by emailing miami@youngarts.org or calling 305-377-1140, ext. 1309.  Space is limited, and the session takes place at the Peacock Education Center in the Arsht's Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

(Esparza photo by the Miami Herald's C.W. Griffin)

April 20, 2010

Arsht taps 'Camp,' 'Dogs' and 'Aluminum' for summer

Tdscaffold Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is continuing its tradition of hot fun in the summertime with a trio of just-announced productions -- not to mention the return of City Theatre's Summer Shorts (the festival turns 15 this summer) and the 25th anniversary edition of the International Hispanic Theatre Festival.

Summer Shorts kicks off the June-through-August lineup in the Carnival Studio Theater June 3-17 with its Signature Shorts program, adding the late-night adults-only undershorts June 4-26.  In the company this year are Shorts veterans Stephen Trovillion, Elena Maria Garcia, Laura Turnbull, Erin Joy Schmidt, Chaz Mena and David Hemphill, along with Scott Genn and Breeza Zeller.

 The world premiere musical Camp Kappawanna, with a score by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb and a script by Miami playwright Marco Ramirez (who's now on the writing staff of FX's Sons of Anarchy), debuts in the Carnival Studio Theater June 17-27.  The show, a coproduction of City Theatre and the Arsht Center, is about a 12-year-old girl leaving home for the first time to go to summer camp.

Next up in the Arsht's summer lineup is Tap Dogs, the Australian show in which dancing construction worker hunks build their set as they dance up a storm.  The show, which plays the John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall June 30-July 10, has been in South Florida before (at the Parker Playhouse in 1997, at the Jackie Gleason Theater in '99), but it's the kind of visual theater the Arsht likes to program for its multilingual audiences.

The International Hispanic Theatre Festival takes over the Carnival Studio Theater July 7-Aug. 1, with the focus this year a tribute to the theater of Mexico.

Aluminium_93_small The Aluminum Show, a multidisciplinary extravaganza that originated in Israel and has a European sensibility, takes over the Ziff Ballet Opera House stage July 14-Aug. 8, after a four-week developmental residency at the Arsht.  The intent, says Executive Vice-President Scott Shiller, is to work with the creators to re-scale the show so that it can tour after that and have greater appeal to American audiences.  The piece involves special effects, jazz, dance, puppetry, acrobatics, performers and, yes, aluminum.

The Arsht is also offering a one-day deal on summer season tickets.  On May 8, you can get two-for-one tickets to select performances of all the summer season shows -- the deal applies to phone, on-line or in-person sales, but there are no ticket fees if you buy at the box office.

Regular tickets go on sales to Arsht Center members April 26, to the public May 2.  Individual tickets range from $25 for Camp Kappawanna to $55 for The Aluminum Show. For more info, call the box office at 305-949-6722 or visit the Arsht Center site.

March 30, 2010

'Mamma Mia!' -- here it comes again

MMPhotoFifteenSmall Some Broadway musicals -- Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables or Wicked, for example -- are so popular that they can return again and again to the same market, powered by an enduring appeal that can apparently sell an endless number of tickets.  Mamma Mia!, which opens at 8 tonight at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, is in a class of its own as a Bedazzled box office behemoth. But not so much for me.

Now, I love ABBA songs as much as the next person.  I remember when the Swedish pop group, newly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first recorded them.  I loved them in Muriel's Wedding.  Heck, I even love them in Mamma Mia!.  I defy anyone to sit absolutely still in a theater seat when the cast sings Dancing Queen.  But that plot.  Spare me.  Watching a trio of middle-aged "girls" cavort around an idyllic Greek island (is there any other kind, even with Greece's financial crisis?) as an about-to-be-wed daughter tries to figure out which of three strange guys was her daddy struck me as silly-absurd-stupid the first time I saw Mamma Mia!.  And I've seen the show at least four times.  Five if you count the movie musical version.

The fact that the film has grossed more than $600 million and is the most successful movie musical of all time proves I'm in a tiny minority when it comes to resisting Mamma Mia!.  So if watching actors in an escapist romantic musical sing and dance to ABBA tunes is your thing, here's what you need to know about seeing Mamma Mia! at the Arsht:  It runs through Suunday, with performances at 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.  Tickets run $25 to $75. It's playing in the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. For tickets or more info, call 305-949-6722 or visit the web site.

March 04, 2010

McCraney's work gets read

Erik28_broadway28_trav_ho One more time from the soapbox:  Miami's Tarell Alvin McCraney is one of the hottest young playwrights in both the United States and England, but we've yet to see a full-fledged professional production of his work here at home (though it's not for lack of trying by a couple of companies, who were turned down when they went after rights to produce The Brothers Size).

That won't change this weekend, but McCraney-curious folks can experience the power of his words and imagination when his play Wig Out!gets a two-performance staged reading as part of the Miami Made lineup at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

The African American Performing Arts Community Theater's Teddy Harrell Jr. is directing Giordan Diaz, Joseph Long, Lela Elam, Kristoff Skalet, Eric Bendross, Ya Ya Browne, David Podein, Marcell Black, Nathalia Lemos, Alexia Maxwell, Leondra Mitchell and Kevin Johnson in the free reading of McCraney's piece about two competing drag houses, and the families born of them.

Showtime is 3 p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday in the Arsht's Peacock Foundation Studio inside the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.  To request a free ticket, visit the Arsht web site.

And by the way: Three San Francisco-area theaters (American Conservatory Theater, Magic Theatre and Marin Theatre Company) are joining forces to produce McCraney's acclaimed trilogy, the Brother/Sister Plays (each will stage one part, and the three plays will run at the same time next fall).  Could that be a model for a trio of South Florida theaters?

(Carol Rosegg photo from Vineyard Theatre production of Wig Out! in New York)

January 27, 2010

Moving on

Ramir08_shorts_TROP_EPF Marco Ramirez, the South Florida playwright whose very clear talent (and string of honors) got him into the highly competitive play-writing program at Manhattan's Juilliard School, has landed a gig writing for the FX television series Sons of Anarchy.  He has left New York for Los Angeles, and if the TV thing works out, who knows how much time/interest he'll have in continuing to write plays?

One Ramirez play that has already had a production by Miami's Mad Cat Theatre Company -- Broadsword, about guys in a heavy metal band who reunite when one of their own vanishes -- is coming back this spring, this time in a larger venue.  Mad Cat will revisit Broadswordin a coproduction with Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.  The show plays the Carnival Studio Theater April 29-May 9. 

Alex Fumero, Ramirez's pal and sometime collaborator in the Foryoucansee Theater company (it presented the original reggaeton/sci fi show Toners in Timein June),has also relocated to L.A.  Fumero is attending the Atlantic Theater Company's conservatory, where students study with the likes of David Mamet, William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman.  

October 13, 2009

Pulitzer winner, Broadway diva hit town

Fans of terrific playwrights and/or captivating Broadway actor/singers, heads up:  This week brings appearances by both kinds of artists in Miami.

Nilo photo Nilo Cruz, the Cuban-American playwright who won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Anna in the Tropics (which was commissioned by and premiered at tiny New Theatre in Coral Gables), kicks off the Make Art Work lecture series at the New World School of the Arts.  Speaking on the topic Exploring the Imagination and Possibilities in the Theater, Cruz will discuss his dramatic process, including character development.  The hour-long talk happens on Wednesday -- that's tomorrow -- at 1:15 p.m. in the Louise O. Gerrits Theater at 25 NE Second St., Eighth Floor, Miami.  Spending an hour with the articulate, creative, inspiring Cruz costs nothing, and the event is open to anyone.  For more information, call 305-237-3502.

Scott Sherie Rene - 01 Also this week, Sherie Rene Scott -- whose Broadway credits include Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Little Mermaid and Aida (plus the upcoming Broadway production of Everyday Rapture)-- kicks off the Arsht Center's Cabaret & Cocktails series in the Carnival Studio Theater. 

Scott's cabaret debut, with the space set up like a jazz club, happens Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 15-17.  Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday.  Tickets are $45, with the "cocktails" part of Cabaret & Cocktails available for purchase at the theater.  For information, call the box office at 305-949-6722 or visit the Arsht web site.

September 03, 2009

Divas and drinks

Tic8_wkend25_Christine_Andr OK, so the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is actually calling its 2009-10 cabaret series "Cabaret & Cocktails," but you get the picture.  Three Broadway leading ladies -- Sherie Rene Scott, Karen Akers and Christine Andreas (she's pictured here) -- will do their thing in the Carnival Studio Theater this season.  Rechristened the Carnival Studio Cabaret for these performances, the theater will become a club where audiences can order drinks and nibbles created by restaurateur Barton G.

Scott, who has starred on Broadway in Aida, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Little Mermaidand more, makes her cabaret debut Oct. 15-18.  Akers devotes an evening to the songs of Jule Styne Jan. 21-24.  And Andreas, who starred in the first-ever show at the Arsht (The Light in the Piazza), brings her acclaimed cabaret show back to the Carnival April 22-25.

Single tickets are $45; a subscription to all three shows is $123.  Tickets go on sale Sept. 12.  For more information, call 305-949-6722 or visit the Arsht web site.

July 09, 2009

Meltzer out as City's Shorts streamlines

City team Stuart Meltzer just wrapped up his second season as the artistic director of City Theatre, the company that presents the popular annual Summer Shorts festival at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the Broward Center.  As he found out after he went to work on Wednesday, that second season will be his last:  He was let go by Stephanie Norman (City's executive director and one of the company's three founders) and Alan Fein (board chairman and spouse of Susan Westfall, another City founder who also sits on the board).

Norman (she's in the middle in the photo, with Meltzer to the left and general manager Kerry Shiller to the right) explains that the company has a $50,000 deficit, a burden made worse by shortfalls in projected ticket sales in both Miami-Dade and Broward.  Worst hit during the recently ended 14th annual Shorts Fest was the Shorts 4 Kids program, which drew 76 percent of capacity last summer but fell below 30 percent this year -- probably, Norman guesses, because recession-related cutbacks brought far fewer school and camp groups to the theater.

Looking at the deficit, disappointing ticket sales and fundraising challenges, and anticipating a loss of $15,000 to $20,000 in grant money for next season, Norman, Fein and the board weighed numerous options and made the choice to go back to a seasonal festival coordinator rather than a year-round artistic director.

"The reviews and response from the audience were strong [this year],'' Norman says, "but we didn't hit our numbers."

So one major savings, it seems, will be Meltzer's salary.  The South Florida native, former head of theater at Gulliver Prep and a former full-time faculty member at the New World School of the Arts, was shaken by the news of his sudden unemployment but has chosen to take the high road.

"The board hired a young, energetic, creative person who was going to shake things up, and I tried to do that.  City Theatre has a terrific board in both Miami-Dade and Broward -- they care a lot,"  he says.  It's just bad luck that the economy is what it is."

Fein says that founders Norman, Westfall and Elena Wohl "did a great job taking the organization to the next level and the next.  After the 10th year, we asked whether we should just declare victory and wrap it up."  Because of support from the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, Carnival Cruise Lines, the Arsht Center and numerous other companies, foundations, individual donors and government grants -- and because of the festival's popularity -- it stuck around and kept growing until the economy shriveled. Fein says that he's determined to make sure the 15th Summer Shorts starts $50,000 in the black and is hoping the company's artistic process "gets more collaborative again."

Norman says of Meltzer, "He's a charming, bright, articulate, wonderfully creative soul.  Working with him has been a pleasure.  I like him very much personally...Do we agree on everything?  No. When you put on art, disagreement is just human nature.  This model didn't work.  For better or worse, it has to change."

June 19, 2009

A caliente "Fuerza Bruta"

Water12_fuerza_dade_ahkFuerza Bruta, that surreal entertainment event unfolding almost nightly on the Ziff Ballet Opera House stage at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, is packing in the hands-on club-going types who normally wouldn't be caught dead going to the hoity-toity stuff they think of as theater.  The Arsht is again reaching out to that new young audience by releasing a new block of tickets and offering a limited number of $20 rush tickets an hour before each performance.

Performances of Fuerza Bruta, which runs through July 5, are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, with 10 p.m. late shows on Friday and Saturday.  Experiencing the production is different in myriad ways: You enter through the Opera House loading docks, chill out before and after with music, drinks and food in the G-Lounge, then get taken onto the stage where you stand, gawk, move around and occasionally brush up against the action for an hour.

Regular tickets are priced at $63.75 and $73.75.  The Arsht is located at 1300 Biscayne Blvd., but you enter through the loading docks on NE 14th St.  For info, call 305-949-6722, or visit the Arsht Center or Fuerza Bruta web sites.

June 11, 2009

Family boredom buster

Shorts4kidsThough the kids are barely out of school for the summer, we're betting that more than a few parents have already heard that familiar yelp: "I'm bored!"

So take them to the theater already.

Shorts 4 Kids, the family-friendly portion of City Theatre's Summer Shorts Festival, is running at Miami's Arsht Center through June 21.  Shows are at 11 a.m. Thursday-Friday, 1 p.m. Thursday-Sunday.

For $17 per person, you get to see eight short plays and songs written by Michael McKeever, Marco Ramirez, Deborah Zoe Laufer, Shel Silverstein, Jennifer Maisel, Maggie Bandur, Cyndi Lauper and Lisa Loeb.  Shorts 4 Kidshas its own fine acting company too:  Katherine Amadeo, Chris Dall'au, Nick Duckardt, Vanessa Elise, Betsy Graver and Joshua Robinson.

To reserve at the Arsht, call 305-949-6722 or visit the center's web site.  If you'd drather take the kids to see the program when it moves to the Broward Center June 25-28, call 954-462-0222 or visit that web site.